I was in a charity shop recently, rifling through the books as usual, when I stumbled across a shiny new copy of Little Miss Sunshine, part of the Mr Men & Little Miss collection of kids books by Roger Hargreaves. Of course I’ve heard of this series. I remember most of my friends had these books when we were children but I’ve never read any of the stories. My parents never bought any of these books for my brother or myself so apart from recognising a few of the characters, I’m clueless.
Nevertheless the book jumped out at me, for reasons other than the fact that the cover features a picture of Little Miss Sunshine and she is bright fucking sunshine yellow. As I said, the book was brand new, and this made me sad: never read, never loved, never even opened. An unwanted gift. A double in some kids collection (“I’ve already got that one!!!!”). Poor Little Miss Sunshine.
I thought of my niece. She is my sunshine and is always smiling. She is Little Miss Sunshine. She is my Little Miss Sunshine. And I’m doing everything in my power to encourage her with learning to read and write, and persuading her to fall in love with books and the library. She regularly takes books home from nursery and loves when I read to her because I do silly voices and invent sequels and all sorts (as one should). It’s so important to make the words and the characters come alive, to make sure that kids don’t think that reading means boring. Thinking of my niece, I gave the lady behind the counter 10p and went on my way.
Since I no longer spend my Friday nights getting wasted, I was called upon to babysit my niece (4) and nephew (just turned 2) while my sister was out on the town. I had bought Little Miss Sunshine with me and showed it to my niece, who was very excited about it and asked if I could read it to her before bed. After dinner, baths, cuddles, and getting them all tucked in (I say this with ease but of course it was a nightmare), I started to read Little Miss Sunshine.
Now, as I said before, I am unfamiliar with this story. Stupidly, I didn’t read it beforehand so had no idea what the book was about. And it was D E P R E S S I N G. Literally, it was a book about depression, I swear to God.
[Basic plot: There is a place called MISERYLAND (I shit you not) in which the King of Miseryland has prohibited laughing, smiling, giggling and chuckling. Everyone and everything cries all day. Everyone is sad. etc. Little Miss Sunshine drives past, smiles at the guard which gets her into trouble, so the guard takes her to the King, the King is angry/sad/deranged/whatever, Little Miss Sunshine changes the name of the place to LAUGHTERLAND and says laughing, smiling, giggling and chuckling are permitted, the King learns how to smile, etc. Everyone is happy, Little Miss Sunshine drives home and conveniently bumps into Mr Happy (who she’s definitely shagging) and jolly good, lovely jubbly, everyone’s a winner.]
The conversation that followed broke my heart.
Me: Right my little munchkins, I’m going to turn the lights off now, yeah? *kisses bambinos*
Me: What is it sweetie?
Niece: Erm, you know on our planet, where we live, in real life, there’s no such thing as Miseryland is there? I don’t want to go there.
Me: *wonders if now is the time to explain that yes, some people do get sad, and cry a lot all day, and that little yellow characters aren’t always around to make you snap out of it, and NO she’s 4 years of bloody age, do not fucking tell her the truth about life, for goodness sake woman!!!*
Me: Noooo of course not baby! We only have Laughterland on this planet, where people are happy and smiling like Little Miss Sunshine and Mr Happy and the King. There is no such thing as Miseryland, so you won’t ever go there, okay? I promise. *pinky promise* Go to sleep now, darling, see you in the morning.
I turned the lights off and just as I’m going out of the door, I hear my niece say, “Auntie…. what does chuckle mean?”
And I ran to her and gave her a big cuddle and explained the meaning but at the same time I was crying silently into her hair because she is so funny and inquisitive and I love her so fucking much and she is my sunshine and I can only pray and hope and wish that she never stops by Miseryland, not even a flying visit, I pray she never goes to Miseryland at all. I pray that she isn’t sad when she discovers that I live there, that I live in Miseryland, that Miseryland is my home and Laughterland is just a place I visit.
I pray that she never visits me in Miseryland, lest she become infected with this suffocating sadness, the one that consumes you from the inside out, the one that kills.
I hope that she is Little Miss Sunshine, always.